By Punch Pacific Correspondent Kristin Martell
I scream, you scream, we ALL scream for C-U-P-C-A-K-E-S.Â Move over ice creamâ€¦thereâ€™s a new sheriff in town, and the cupcake is not going anywhere.Â Peopleâ€™s love affair with the tasty treat has evolved into a trend that no one predicted.Â It first hit the scene more than a decade ago when it was popularized by Carrie and friends in “Sex and the City.â€Â But, the real explosion took place in the last few years.Â Cupcake bakeries have spread like wild fire across the country. Theyâ€™re everywhere â€“ major cities and small towns alike.Â In some areas, multiple cupcake shops are on the same block.Â Â Anyone in DC â€“ the mecca of the cupcake rage â€“ can attest to this.Â Â Whatâ€™s responsible for this crazy cupcake craze?
Many will say Sprinkles Cupcakes.Â Thereâ€™s debate whether it was NYCâ€™s Magnolia Bakery but itâ€™s safe to say that Sprinkles Cupcakes was instrumental in fueling the cupcake craze.Â The Los Angeles Times and Washington Post think so too writing â€œSprinkles is the progenitor of the haute cupcake craze” and “most cupcake bakeries take their inspiration from Sprinkles,â€ respectively.
I had the pleasure to recently chat with the queen of cupcakes herself, Candace Nelson.Â Sheâ€™s co-founder of Sprinkles Cupcakes and a judge on Food Networkâ€™s â€œCupcake Wars.â€Â Â Admittedly, I didnâ€™t know much about Candace before the interview.Â Of course, I knew Sprinkles, but I didnâ€™t know Candaceâ€™s story â€“ itâ€™s inspirational.Â During the interview, she opens up about living out her passion, the latest and greatest with Sprinkles, and the new season of her successful TV gig.
Candace took a huge leap of faith when she said goodbye to a high-powered corporate career to start a new one from â€œscratch.â€ (I had to use a baking metaphor.)Â Candace was a Silicon Valley investment banker during the dot-com boom.Â Like many, she moved to an Internet company, and like many, lost her job when the tech bubble burst.Â â€œAs a younger person, it was very shocking to realize that all my experience was in jobs that no longer existed,â€ she says.
Candace did some serious soul searching.Â Â She discusses the importance of being honest with yourself during this process.Â Â She says, â€œI was not happy in that life.Â I asked myself, what will make me happy? What am I passionate about? If I have to start over, why not do something I love.â€
Candaceâ€™s long-time passion â€“ and the answer to her questions â€“ was baking.Â It was a nostalgic reminiscence of childhood.Â A unique fact about Candace is that she spent her childhood in Southeast Asia.Â Â Growing up in Indonesia, the kitchen was her favorite haunt.Â She often had a hankering for an American treat such as a cookie or cupcake, but couldnâ€™t get it there.Â It was up to Candace and her mom to bake it themselves.
Before diving right in, Candace was smart and tested the waters before fully committing.Â She enrolled in pastry school hoping to validate this was the right path.Â â€œIt was the quintessential opposite of what I was doing in the corporate world.Â It was important to see if this made sense,â€ she says.Â Candace determined that she loved to bake, was good at it, and could do it all day every day.Â Â After graduation, Candace started small with a custom cake baking business out of her kitchen, but a few years later joined forces with her husband, Charles, to start a new business: Sprinkles Cupcakes.
I asked how difficult or easy the decision was to make.Â It was fairly quick for her â€“ it just made sense.Â Â Candace admits that she would probably not have made the decision so quickly if it hadnâ€™t been for the downturn in the economy.Â â€œIt was a challenge that became an opportunity,â€ she says.
Sprinkles Cupcakes opened in 2005 during the height of the no-carb diet crazeâ€¦AND in Beverly Hills no less.Â At that time, everyone she knew was on the South Beach Diet.Â Candace jokes that even Charles and herself did their own version of it, specifically eating healthily of lean meats and veggies â€“ no carbs until it came to dessert.Â Sheâ€™s a big believer that dessert should be a daily pleasure.Â Â She wanted it to be worth the indulgence though.Â Â This mentality fueled the idea of Sprinkles.Â Candace created something that satisfied the daily indulgence.Â â€œThe cupcake is an indulgence in moderation,â€ she declares.
Despite some naysayers and the current market conditions described above, Sprinkles experienced instant success selling out of product in the first two hours on opening day, and the first week, they sold 2000 cupcakes.Â Â The first weekâ€™s sales blew away their predictions on how much product they needed.Â Â Candace and Charlesâ€™ biggest challenge in the beginning was supply and demand.Â This problem persisted for months â€“ as soon as they ramped up product, another media outlet would publish an article causing a spike in traffic and sales.Â They couldnâ€™t keep up with demand.
I guess Candace was right about peopleâ€™s desire for a small indulgence.Â In fact, Sprinklesâ€™ impact was covered in an â€œThe Insiderâ€ report on the â€œdiet dilemma that threatens to blow up Hollywood.â€ Hmmmm, South Beach Diet what?
Today, Sprinkles sells 25,000 cupcakes per day.Â Â With more than 300 employees and 10 locations around the country, the companyâ€™s growth is impressive.Â Â The company plans to expand internationally to the Middle East and UK.Â What else is on the horizon?Â Candace was tight-lipped about a new concept that will open in early 2012.Â As a PR person, I understand why she canâ€™t talk about this, but I had to ask.Â I was able to pull out from Candace that it will be something around ice cream and cookies.
Candace travels often visiting her stores, including to her Georgetown location.Â I asked whatâ€™s her favorite place to go for dessert when sheâ€™s in the nationâ€™s capital (besides Sprinkles, of course).Â She loves Baked and Wired, complimenting the cupcakes, owner, coffee, and vibe of this hip cafÃ©.Â I also wanted to know, if not cupcakes, then what?Â Â Â Her response: a warm chocolate chip cookie.Â Sheâ€™s a proponent and enjoyer of classic American dessert.Â Â Hmmm, I wonder if/how this plays into Candaceâ€™s new venture.
For all you reality cooking show lovers, I asked her whatâ€™s going in this seasonâ€™s â€œCupcake Wars.â€Â The 5th and 6th seasons (26 episodes in total) started a couple Sundays ago and will run until the summer.Â Weâ€™ll see returning faces, redemption and champion shows, and the first ever all vegan baker episode.
Is the cupcake craze here to stay?Â She shared her thoughts about the future of the biz.Â â€œThe proliferation of cupcakes bakeries are far beyond what anyone could have imagined. Just look at the show.Â There are 26 shows, we need four bakeries per show.Â In the beginning, I questioned the producers about how they were going to fill the shows/find the contestants.Â But, they did it.Â The bakeries are there!â€
Candace continues, â€œI believe in the cupcake, the cupcake has always been here.Â It is just now being done in a way thatâ€™s palatable for grown-ups as it is for kids.Â The cupcake has been elevated â€“ itâ€™s here to stay.Â I donâ€™t believe cupcake stores will open at the rate weâ€™ve seen, and I do think some will close.Â Consumers are smart.Â End of day, they will choose the better product.Â The cupcakes of better quality will stay and the ones that are not will go.â€
Candace is a passionate baker, successful entrepreneur, speaker, wife, mom.Â With all her many hats and responsibilities, how does she find work/life balance. Candace says, â€œMy life is not always in balance but Iâ€™m lucky that I can work from home and be flexible with my schedule. Work responsibilities come in waves â€“ for example, when opening a new store or filming long days of â€œCupcake Warsâ€ â€“ so I always take advantage when things slow down and carve out extra family time.â€
This was a fabulous interview for me.Â I found Candace to be down to earth and genuineâ€¦ not to mention inspiring.Â Her story is empowering to all who have a dream or a passion.Â My most important take away â€“ and her rule to live by â€“ do what you love.
*** Kristin Martell is a Pacific Punch Correspondent and Author of Damn the Odds.Â A recent Los Angeles transplant from Washington, DC,Â sheâ€™s pursuing her dream of acting while working as a PR consultant to pay the bills.Â Visit her at www.damntheodds.com. *** Â
Pamela Lynne Sorensen is the founder of Pamela’s Punch, a leading source of information for the “who, what, when, and where” of Washington, DC’s elite social, professional, and philanthropic scene, which she founded in November of 2006. In 2012 she launched Pacific Punch, based in Los Angeles. Pamela comes from an extensive background in sales and business development from a variety of industries, has been involved with charities and fundraising for a number of years and holds several Board and leadership positions. She currently resides in Arlington, Virginia and when she’s not out on the town, she’s reading or writing while sipping fine wine, or traveling the country and the world ISO adventures, beauty, fun, food, style, libations, music, and the good life. Follow her on Twitter at @pamelaspunch.